Five Problems With The Economist’s Special Report on Latinos

By Aura Bogado Mar 16, 2015

The Economist magazine set out to cover Latinos this week with a special package. Although the package seems well intentioned, there are some unfortunate drawbacks within most sections which cover media, faith, education and a lot more. (Many are locked behind a paywall). Here are some of the problems you’ll find on the pages of The Economist’s special report:

1) Latinos or Hispanics?

Both terms are fraught because Latin America is essentially made up of territories colonized by Europeans, mostly from Spain and Portugal.

In "Identity: A Suitable Box to tick," which focuses on Grace Flores-Hughes, The Economist writes that federal administrator Flores-Hughes "successfully argued that ‘Latino’ could include Brazilians or even Italians." But in practice, that’s rarely how it’s understood and that’s often how we get to "Hispanic."

"Hispanic" is objectionable because it emphasizes only Spanish-speaking people from (or whose ancestors are from) Latin America. That means you’re leaving out millions of people who speak indigenous languages as well as other European languages in Latin America (think about Portuguese in gigantic Brazil, for example)."Hispanic" is also usually understood to include people from Spain. So: no. 

I prefer "Latino" but it has its problems, too. Citing the "Latin" part, critics correctly point out that it defines people by their European colonizers. Additionally, because Spanish is a language that emphasizes gender (and men over women), you can have a group of 999 women and just one man and the whole group is labeled in the masculine form, Latino. Still, I choose it as the lesser of the two ethnonymic evils. 

The Economist would do well to choose one. Instead, it uses the terms interchangeably throughout the package. 

2) That Gawd Awful Cover

Illustrator Jon Berkeley designed this cover image for The Economist… with chili peppers (which is also currently the banner on The Economist’s Twitter page):


Let’s get something straight: Calling a Latino a "chili" is a slur. Reducing Latinos to chili peppers for a package that’s supposed to explain why they’re keeping the country young and vibrant is offensive. Including a subsection called "Chilies in the mix", about how Latinos are blending into the U.S. is unbelievable.

3) Most Latinos Aren’t Immigrants

A lot of The Economist’s storytelling focuses on Latino immigrants and the illogical, racist backlash against them. This emphasis could easily lead readers who wouldn’t otherwise know any better to think that most Latinos are immigrants. They’re not: Out of the 54 million or so Latinos in the U.S. currently, only about 35 percent are immigrants, both documented and undocumented. The Economist mentions this fact in just two times in its 12-part package.

4) Obama Isn’t Offering Anyone Amnesty

In a video on The Economist, an unnamed narrator (who is also hard-pressed to pronounce Spanish language words) calls Obama’s executive order on immigration "amnesty." The reporter might be confusing Obama’s executive order–a temporary solution that does not confer any kind of legal status or path to citizenship–with actual amnesty, like what Ronald Reagan did in 1986 when he allowed some 3 million immigrants to become citizens.

5) That "Melting Pot" Stuff

The last section of The Economist’s package, an essay called "A multi-hued future: Have faith in the melting-pot,"  concludes:

America’s white majority is turning into a minority, and tens of millions of American-born Hispanics will play a big part in that. The hope is that Latinos will enter, enrich and rejuvenate the American mainstream. Whatever happens, the mainstream itself will look very different. Americans must make this experiment succeed. There are many grounds for optimism.

This framing suggests that the publication’s target audience is made up of that declining white population.  

The melting pot metaphor soothes white paranoia about people of color on the premise that those people of color will assimilate into whiteness. But The Economist’s package doesn’t account for the fact that there are white, indigenous, black, Asian and mixed Latinos. Some will be able to melt into white assimilation, but it’s important to recognize that some won’t.

As sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva points out, the melting pot works for some people, but not for others: "that melting pot never included people of color. Blacks, Chinese, Puerto Ricans, etcetera, could not melt into the pot. They could be used as wood to produce the fire for the pot, but they could not be used as material to be melted into the pot."

The Economist would do well to consider that.